EU, Ukraine together on Europe Day, but Kyiv is still out

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BRUSSELS – For the first time, Ukraine and the European Union are celebrating Europe Day, that celebration of “peace and unity,” together. Don’t let anyone get too carried away, though.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU’s executive branch, made a special trip to Kyiv on Tuesday to deliver warm words of fate after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country would from now on “celebrating Europe Day together with all of Europe.”

More than a year into the war by attacking Russia, Ukraine wants to join the bloc badly as an essential part of securing its future in the Western world. “Europe Day,” when the current 27 members celebrate their union as one, also shows how far off that moment still is.

Next month, it will already be a year since the EU countries gave Ukraine candidate status, praising the country with praise, encouraging it with aid and military assistance and imposing sanctions on Kyiv’s enemy Russia. . Some leaders often dress in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian national flag and “Slava Ukraini,” which means Glory to Ukraine, ending so many EU speeches.

However, frustration on the Ukrainian side is evident, as the start of membership talks is still out of sight. Tired and hoarse, dressed in military olive-drab, Zelenskyy visited the Netherlands last week with an earnest plea for a “positive assessment” to start the talks.

“We are doing our best during the war. We do all the reforms we have to do,” he told the host, one of the six original members of the EU dating back to 1958.

Time, however, is a very flexible concept in the EU, and patience is essential.

“I am very impressed by what the president’s team is doing,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, with Zelenskyy standing next to him. “Fighting a war against Russia while taking drastic measures to clear the way for this whole process towards EU accession.”

Then he fell back on the mechanics of the EU’s time setting, which expects the next assessment in about half a year, in October. All this for a leader who is counting in weeks and months when his country could be on the road to victory – or ruin.

The best advice, however, is for Ukraine to stay the course.

“A promise was made and indeed it is now in the hands of Ukraine. The EU can’t postpone things forever,” said Ghent University Professor Hendrik Vos, an expert on EU decision-making.

But unexpected things can happen, because corn silos were suddenly overflown in several countries of the eastern part of the EU confirmed in early spring. To help Ukraine export its grain, sunflower and other farm produce after Russia closed off the Black Sea route, the EU lifted trade restrictions to allow free passage through the bloc and the hope on to needy markets in the world.

But in neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, stocks rose, prices fell and that very vocal and influential group of voters – the EU’s 10 million farmers – began to protest. , shows that membership pledges are about much more than just sentimental displays. of support.

“Of course we have solidarity with Ukraine,” said Christine Lambert, president of the EU farmers’ union COPA, “but there are important economic aspects to this,” adding that it “kind of creates a hole in the we have a budget. There will be problems and farmers cannot bear these problems alone.”

As well as ensuring that France and Germany would not go to war again, the founding principles of the EU also included avoiding starvation in the bloc after the Second World War. It allowed farming to take a very important place in EU policies and even now it takes up almost a third of the EU’s designated budget.

The war and climate change have put EU farmers more and more under pressure and it would be particularly challenging to include – and continue – a country like Ukraine, which has historically seen as the bread basket of Europe.

Before the war, Ukraine was still heavily involved in the global market of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil. Agriculture accounted for over 40% of exports.

Opening up to competition like this strikes fear into the hearts of many farmers, especially if it comes within a few years. Lambert pointed out how EU farmers have to comply with strict environmental and social regulations, which Ukrainians so far do not have to comply with.

As soon as Ukraine joins, in principle the entire market of the current 27 countries will be at hand, but it must also comply with EU regulations. And Vos said that goes down to the size of battery chicken cages to meet animal welfare standards.

“Farmers say they don’t want unfair competition from large chicken farms in Ukraine that don’t have to play by the rules,” Vos said.

And Ukraine can join only if it receives significant financial support from the current members to rebuild and modernize its country according to EU standards. It will turn many EU countries that now receive money from EU coffers into net grants. Little wonder that many in the EU are pushing any membership date into the unspecified future yesterday.

“Many years. We need that time to see that obligations are satisfied,” Lambert said.

Such comments from a small group of stakeholders will not stop the foundation of history though. Due to the continued enlargement of the EU, short-term financial losses did not last long.

When the Iberian Peninsula was freed from dictatorship in the 1970s, poor and needy Spain and Portugal were included in the EU ten years later despite the cost.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the EU admitted eight eastern countries in 2004, also at great cost to existing members. .

Each time, discussions about nitty gritty issues went deep into countless nights but eventually a compromise was found – protesting members were given more money, sometimes long transfer times apply them.

Russia’s war in Ukraine could be a similar step in the history of the EU.

“At a certain point there is no turning back. The innovative decision was taken. There can be gradual discussions about money until the end. But they won’t stop him,” Vos said.

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